Indian Range Livestock Production in the West and Southwest: Entering, Enduring and Emerging from Drought Conditions

Final Report for SW98-036

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $103,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $107,806.00
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Robert Kattnig
University of Arizona
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Project Information

Abstract:

Key management decisions entering, enduring and emerging from drought are categorized into three resource areas: livestock, rangelands and financial/marketing. Successful adaptation of management principles is closely tied to cultural values. Mother Earth is the most central of values; animals, plants and people are products or gifts from Mother Earth. By restoring vigor to Mother Earth, all things can prosper. The central theme is 'Mother is tired". The focus is on reducing rangeland pressure by culling animals, maintaining quality beef production, supplementing water and nutrients when economically feasible and marketing animals to conserve financial capital.

Project Objectives:

The overall aim of the project is to develop a drought management curricula for producers which will include multi-media educational resources, a series of educational workshops, industry tours, and demonstration projects with specific producers.

Objective 1
Development of a systems approach will enhance the sustainability of subsistence livestock production on arid rangelands.

Objective 2
Promote the sustainability of natural resources including range, water, wildlife and recreational
opportunities.

Objective 3
Foster a systems approach to decision making that integrates traditional livestock production values representing wealth, a means of maintaining traditional grazing land with resource conservation and improvement goals.

Introduction:

Livestock have been a major source of income for the Southwestern and Western tribes for over a hundred years. However, they have not reaped the economic success achieved by non-Indian ranchers in the same areas. Sustainability of traditional livestock production has been lost. Many continue to live at or below the poverty level. Mineral exploration, tourism and gaming offer additional incomes for some of the tribes; however, livestock remain an important source of income to individual tribal members.

Tribal members have encountered numerous problems sustaining viable livestock enterprises centered around cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. These include rangeland deterioration precipitated by overstocking, season long grazing and periodic drought; low livestock reproduction rates; variability in livestock quality and sporadic livestock markets.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kristen Egen
  • Loretta Singletary

Research

Materials and methods:

Objective 1:
The development of a systems approach will enhance the sustainability of subsistence livestock production on arid rangelands. This approach will be producer oriented: 1) based on the historical legacy of Indian tribes to maintain sustainable and economically viable production systems in balance with both nature and family values,
2) draw from producer perspectives, experiences and ideas, and
3) geared educationally and programmatically to subsistence producer needs.
The project will sponsor regional “ cow/sheep camp colleges or field days” to provide opportunities for southwestern and western tribes to exchange information and ideas to address the question of how, in contemporary and drought-prone times, to integrate sustainable: production goals, natural resource management goals, and cultural goals.
The camps, held in rural setting not unlike the historical cow camps of the western ranges, will
feature a mix of two-way educational formats. Study group sessions will be structured to
facilitate information exchange about these goals among tribal producers, tribal resource
professionals NRCS staff and extension professionals. Focus interviews will be used to
document individual experiences in maintaining sustainable goals during pre-drought, drought
and post-drought conditions, as well as related issues that may emerge during discussions and
interviews. The results from the study group sessions and focus interviews will be used to begin creating an integrated systems approach to sustainable subsistence livestock production.
Participants will complete evaluations of each camp.

Objective 2:
Promote the sustainability of natural resources including range, water, wildlife and recreational opportunities. Similar to Objective 1, this objective will be producer oriented. Regional tribal conferences will be held to map out long term objectives. Participants will have a chance to map or illustrate past, current, and future resource management goals to show the history of sustainability, its current status and its future on tribal lands.

Objective 3:
Foster a systems approach to decision making that integrates traditional livestock production values representing wealth, a means of maintaining traditional grazing land with resource conservation and improvement goals. The project cooperators, along with identified tribal producers and professionals will develop a final curricula that will serve as a template for
common tribal educational. Tribal advisory groups comprised of producers will be asked to preview and evaluate the materials prior to release. These materials will be presented in a multi-media format, including conferences, field days, tours, videos, notebooks and workbooks.

Research results and discussion:

Producer meetings were held in a number of Indian communities and chapters. These meetings consisted of both educational programs and tribal discussions and interactions. The central theme of the educational segments was managing the domestic animal and the natural resources for sustainable production.

During the discussion sessions the producers were asked to identify problems they anticipated and how they had survived other droughts. This is an example sample of survey responses. 1) Ideas as why the livestock industry has not been profitable for Indian Ranchers. Response - Land management, water and environment, education, people, economics, livestock quality, maintenance, prejudice. 2)Feelings on past programs to regulate and reduce livestock numbers on tribal lands. Response - The majority claim the programs were unsuccessful. Politics and family connections play too great a part in permit acquisition. People feel they were never given choices nor experienced the consequences of disregarding regulations. In some areas Uniform Grazing Acts were being proposed for the revision of grazing regulations. People need permits that allow them to raise enough livestock to earn a living. 3) Drought crisis management programs descriptions and affect on livestock production. Response - Feed donations, water, livestock reduction, “There is greed, livestock owners will not reduce their livestock until their neighbor does it first.”, “Grandfather was not educated, but he cared for livestock and helped me chase them to a different place where they could survive. 4)Beliefs on the best natural ways to prepare livestock to endure drought conditions. Response - Reduction, Reserves, Preventative health programs, Grazing land management, Herd variety. 5) How a range should be managed to ensure enough grazing is available to livestock before, during and after a drought. Response - “Education, Education, Education”, planning, District grazing committee projects. 6)Ideas on ensuring diversity of wildlife and plant life before, during and after a drought. Response - Range planning and education, Re-seeding. 7)Water problems. Response- Maintenance, location, money, “We must pray for rain and prepare the land to hold the rain it receives, Mother Earth will not bring weather to help until the land has been taken care of and the abuses stopped”. 8) Types of decision-making or leadership skills necessary to work through livestock management decisions. Response - Leadership skills, committee actions. Other topics to surface during the interviews included animal nutrition, culling, economics, horses, open range, marketing, racial discrimination, and tradition/spiritual considerations.

A major theme began to emerge from the meetings. The general consensus that Mother Earth was tired
started to emerge. This offered the primary focus for future programming. Livestock and the people are still very important to the communities, but Mother Earth is the basis for all other things. In addition to a central theme, other priorities came to light. Two interconnected but separate pathways started to emerge. One focus area was on the livestock and livestock management and a second equally important focus was on the range resource. Mother is Tired. “We must pray for rain and prepare the land to hold the rain it receives, Mother Earth will not bring weather to help until the land has been taken care of and the
abuses stopped” is a theme that reached across cultures. The underlying issue of herd reduction was summed up by these two phrases, “There is greed, livestock owners will not reduce their livestock until their neighbor does it first.”, “Grandfather was not educated, but he cared for livestock and helped me chase them to a different place where they could survive.” This is the traditional practice of managing the domestic animal and the natural resources for sustainable production. During these discussions, it became readily apparent that financial resources were the driving forces behind the decision making process, often over riding cultural values and environmental considerations.

Improved marketing programs during good years can lessen the impact during the drought years. It was necessary to work through livestock management decisions to improve marketability of the livestock. This was best achieved by working to develop and improve leadership skills and committee actions. Success depended upon successfully addressing tradition and spiritual considerations.

The focus of the project had to be narrowed to identify attainable goals. Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) emerged as a key focal point. A program has been developed between the Departments of Agriculture of some of the Indian Tribes, the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the Arizona Beef Board and the University of Arizona. Numerous workshops have been conducted at the chapter level, tribal workshops, and multi-state field days. This not only addressed the marketability of animals, but also proper health
programs, improved genetics and reproduction. Key parts of the BQA are a 4 hour workshop that results in the certification of individual ranches providing the opportunity for producers to participate in three levels of preconditioning. The producers are then eligible to buy ear tags to identify their cattle as part of the Arizona Beef Quality Assurance Program and enables the buyers to know these animals have received the same standards of production as non tribal cattle. This helped to reduce discrimination and let the
cattle to blend into the industry.

Much of the southwest is enduring the worst drought in over a century. During 2003, many of the Indian rangelands were classified as extreme drought (D4) by the USDA. Over the last 6 years, drought stressed animals were marketed with limited success and range and supplemental feed resources have been limited. However as a direct result of the SARE initiative some of the producers have adopted new management plans. An example of this is the Black Mesa Chapter of the Navajo Nation. They formed a beef producers association and collectively have worked toward common production goals. As a result of working with the Navajo Department of Agriculture and the University of Arizona, a drought management plan
was implemented in April 2002. All cows were pregnancy checked and non pregnant cows were
culled. A comprehensive health program has been implemented and complete herd records were
developed. In addition, the cows were removed from the drought stressed range and moved to
new pastures that had been rested for a number of years. A battery of leased bulls were utilized
to breed the entire herd.

In some areas death loss due to drought stress was substantial. However specific areas showed comprehensive management. An area near Dilcon, AZ is an example, the cow herds and sheep flocks have been reduced and the range is in fair to good condition. In addition, the cows were body condition score 4 compared to scores of 2 and 3 in other areas.

The overall theme of "Mother is Tired" has been adopted to justify the herd reductions and changes
in traditional grazing practices. Drought survival was the central theme of over 40 workshops held on the Hualapai, Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache, Gila River and Tohono O'odham reservations. Central focus was on culling livestock, supplementing water and protein, and
conserving the rangelands. Attendance at the workshops ranged from a low of 8 to a high of
over 200. Many of these workshops were presented at the local chapter house and were often
followed with a "pot luck" meal served by the local chapter members. Two major changes have
occurred during this time, increased attendance by tribal elders and the genuine interest in the
topics presented.

Research conclusions:

A major theme emerged from the meetings, a general consensus that Mother Earth is tired developed. This offered the primary focus for future programming. Livestock and the people were still very important to the communities, but Mother Earth is the basis for all other things. In addition to a central theme, other priorities emerged. Two interconnected but separate pathways were identified, one focused on livestock and livestock management and a second equally important focus was on the range resource.

Mother is Tired. One of the tribal elders said “We must pray for rain and prepare the land to hold the rain it receives, Mother Earth will not bring weather to help until the land has been taken care of and the abuses stopped”. This theme reached across cultures.

The underlying issue of herd reduction was summed up by these two phrases, “There is greed, livestock owners will not reduce their livestock until their neighbor does it first.”, “Grandfather was not educated, but he cared for livestock and helped me chase them to a different place where they could survive.” This was the traditional practice of managing the domestic animal and the natural resources for sustainable production.

Mother Earth is central to both cultural and production goals. The fundamental concept of "Mother is tired" evolved, then served as the basis for herd reduction and supplemental management policies. "Mother Earth needs time to rest", thus allowing the rangelands to recover.

Another important aspect was the development of trust between the various partners. This
facilitated the adaptation of new management techniques. As a result, new grazing associations
were formed in various on various tribal lands tot improve herd production.

Currently Indian livestock producers in Arizona account for almost half of all the Beef Quality Assurance Certified Producers in the state of Arizona. This is evidence of the value of the SARE project.

The more progressive producers are now discussing plans for vertically integrated programs amoung Indian producers across the West. A goal is to develop a branded product "Indian Beef"

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

A strong outreach component was developed. Over 40 drought relief programs were presented to Indian livestock producers. This was the result of the scoping meetings held during the early phases.

A large number of Beef Quality Assurance workshops have been conducted at the chapter level, tribal field days, and multi-state field days. This not only addressed the marketability of animals, but also proper health programs, improved genetics and reproduction.

The more progressive producers are now discussing plans for vertically integrated programs amoung Indian producers across the West. A goal is to develop a branded product "Indian Beef"

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The economic impact is difficult to measure. It will only become measureable when the producers emerge from the long term drought. However it is safe to estimate hundreds of thousands of dollars have been salvaged during this stressful time by reducing herds. strategic supplementation, and moving to new rangelands for grazing. This savings not only represents livestock, but rangelands and other economic resources.

Farmer Adoption

Rancher adoption is a slow process. Initially we had the "early adaptors" participating, but as trust and understanding developed more general audiences responded. In some cases now, it has reached the discussion stage in tribal councils and council committees.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

One area that was not possible too explore in this project was the recovery phase after drought. This needs to continue to fully complete the cycle

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.